Definition of deserts in English:


plural noun

  • What a person deserves with regard to reward or (more usually) punishment.

    ‘the penal system fails to punish offenders in accordance with their deserts’
    • ‘He believes that an emphasis on desert not only distorts the Christian message of unconditional love but can lead in practice to cruelty and deprivation.’
    • ‘There must be some clear prima facie reason for punishment in talk of desert over centuries, and in this theory we have such a reason.’
    • ‘These are viewed as fair outcomes, as just deserts or rewards for differences in ability, skill or effort, within the framework of a competitive market.’
    • ‘Commentators talk about deserving a result, precisely because there's such a wide gap between deserts and rewards.’
    • ‘For example, the claim that medical doctors and business executives are paid too much compared to what manual workers get is a claim of comparative desert.’
    • ‘We must not demand justice if we are to see it anywhere; above all, we must not compare our deserts or rewards with those of others.’
    • ‘If directly doing justice is what affirmative action is about, then its mechanisms must be adjusted as best they can to reward individual desert and true merit.’
    • ‘Now for one thing, it is always very risky to introduce concepts like desert and punishment into one's theology, for if one can deserve hell can one also obtain heaven?’
    • ‘It would be our just deserts for being so ‘arrogant’.’
    reward, recompense, requital, retribution
    View synonyms


If a person gets their just deserts they get what they deserve. Deserts here is related to deserve, and is spelled with one -s- in the middle; a dessert is a sweet course eaten at the end of a meal. The -ss- spelling in the sense ‘what a person deserves’ is regarded as an error, although in the Oxford English Corpus it is as common as the correct spelling


  • get (or receive) one's just deserts

    • Receive what one deserves, especially appropriate punishment.

      ‘those who caused great torment to others rarely got their just deserts’
      • ‘Even defendants who are returned to court rarely receive their just deserts.’
      • ‘Short-term, we all feel good that this guy's going to get his just deserts.’
      • ‘I can only hope that the angler got his just deserts from a visit by the Environment Agency bailiffs.’
      • ‘I got my just deserts anyway having to drink the wretched and vile charcoal drink.’
      • ‘When the thief Clark is tied up by businessman Russell, there is pleasure, even joy, at seeing the criminal get his just deserts; then the situation is reversed and Clark gains the ascendancy.’
      • ‘All of this might be put down to us being both blatant and stupid travellers, ignorantly and arrogantly swanning our way around and duly receiving our just deserts.’
      • ‘We took it in our stride, we prepared and we got our just deserts.’
      • ‘I know it is low and I'm not proud of it but I did it and I got my just deserts.’
      • ‘Anyway, there are plenty of films where the bad guy/s get their just deserts.’
      • ‘Both authors would have agreed on one point, however: that the murderer received his just deserts thanks to the workings of divine providence.’
      • ‘‘If a guy is going out and giving 110 percent of his body to try and succeed, then I want to make sure he gets his just deserts on television,’ says Phil.’
      • ‘Just watch this get published and then those guys will get their just deserts.’
      • ‘When Debra and Robert learn of the deception, Raymond receives his just deserts in a marvelous confrontation scene at the dance club.’
      • ‘You get your just deserts in this world, most often when you least expect them.’
      • ‘It happens seldom enough that miscreants get their just deserts.’


Middle English: via Old French desert, from deservir ‘serve well’ (see deserve).